By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah, Matthew Anderson, and Mark Feldman
Despite the fact that President Bio was elected into office as President of Sierra Leone under the guise of ending the corrupt practices of his predecessor, financial records obtained by the Africanist Press show how the Office of the Chief Minister of Sierra Leone spent over Le34.2 billion Leones (more than US$3.4 million) in less than three years. This money was spent on travel per diems (expenses listed do not include airfares) and for procurement of goods and services that did not undergo an official competitive bidding process with open requests. The Chief Minister’s Office financial records indicate that several wire transfers of hundreds of millions of Leones were sent to foreign media agencies and technology companies in Europe, China, and the United States. These transfers were purportedly for consultancy services, public relations operations, and information technology products. None of these services or products were ever advertised or put on an open bid. Records of these large monetary transactions and wire transfer payments reveal that these transactions were non-compliant with Sierra Leone’s public finance laws and the public procurement regulations.
Sierra Leone’s public finance laws and public procurement regulations require that all expenditures from the country’s Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) – the government’s central treasury accounts – must be based on each procuring agency or department’s approved budgetary and procurement plan, as approved by the Parliament for each specific year. Section 18 of the Public Procurement Act of 2016, one of the laws that regulates public procurement in Sierra Leone, specifically provides that all goods and services procured by a ministry or department must be included in the prior approved annual procurement plan for that entity and that a procurement committee must be in charge of a procurement process.
Evidence obtained by the Africanist Press shows that procurements for goods and services were mostly undertaken on an ad hoc basis and in ways that openly violated public procurement regulations. These procurements included, for example, a total of Le1,876,061,250 (about US$185,000) that was paid directly during the last quarter of 2018 to Salman Motors in Freetown. These funds included the alleged purchase of three Toyota Land Cruiser Prado vehicles for the newly established Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI). We found no evidence in the records of the Office of the Chief Minister to indicate that Salman Motors was awarded the said procurement contract from an open bidding process. In fact, the evidence we reviewed shows that an unusually high advance payment (transaction ID FT1833061004) of Le 1,200,000,000 (about US$120,000) – more than 70% of the contract value – was made to Salman Motors on November 26, 2018, ahead of the supply of the three vehicles that were supposedly purchased for DSTI staff. Apart from the lack of evidence of a bidding and tender process, there is also no evidence that an advertisement notice inviting other suppliers to compete for this contract was ever made by the Chief Minister’s Office. Evidence shows that the remaining balance of Le223,878,750 (about US$22,000) (FT1833849422) was paid on December 4, 2018, to Salman Motors to complete the payment of more than Le1.4 billion spent on the purchase of the DSTI Prado vehicles. We have found no evidence that the vendor actually delivered all of the three vehicles that were paid for. Moreover, the 1.2 billion Leones in payments to Salman Motors do not include two earlier payments (FT1829170875 and FT1829709495) of Le200,000,000 (about US$20,000) and Le252,182,500 (about US$25,000) made on October 18, 2018, and October 24, 2018, respectively, for unstated purposes. In fact, there is no records to indicate the purposes of the other earlier combined payments totaling Le452,182,500 ($44,288) made to Salman Motors by the Chief Minister’s Office.